Text and photographs by Felicia Jones
Upon arriving in Beijing in June, I was surprised at sheer size and density of culture in this city. Getting lost in China’s capital was not something I was planning on doing, but in a city of 24 million people it was something I should have expected. Coming here was my first experience abroad. Having traveled all across the United States, visiting most of the major cities there, I believed I would be prepared for anything. Oh how little I understood what coming to Beijing entailed. Though getting lost was not originally part of the plan, it ended up being the best thing that could have happened to a newcomer.
There is more than one way to get lost. Anyone who has experienced much travel would know that. Here in Beijing I have been lost in many different ways myself. In a city like this, with diverse people from all over the country and world, there are many things to experience and get carried away in. Many different languages are spoken, different types of food served, and different types of art displayed all over. The options are limitless.
As soon as I set foot on this land, I thought I would be able to quickly get oriented. In my hometown, against the backdrop of the Rockies, it is easy to orient yourself to different directions. There are always mountains showing the way. Beijing doesn´t have those convenient mountains but instead has streets that all look the same, street names that line up opposite of the way they do in the States, and smog that obscures the sun. There is no easy way to tell where North is. But that being said, I still thought I would be ok getting around.
On my first full day here, I got in a taxi and met up with some close friends who happened to be in the city. After visiting with them for a couple of hours, I decided to head home. Alone. Navigating the subway was no problem, with the clearly marked signs it is hard to get lost down there. It wasn´t until I came above surface and tried to find my home that I realized I was in trouble. I got out and headed in the direction I thought was right. An hour and a half later, when a temple appeared in front of me, I realized how far away my hotel was. Overwhelmed by the situation I went to the nearest guard and asked for directions. A kind man who spoke better English than my Chinese came over and told me I was far from home. Grabbing a cab was the best bet so I got in one and gratefully went back home.